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End Of An Era

7th May 2008 By Munster Rugby

End Of An Era

When John Kelly made his debut for Munster in September 1997, Anthony Foley already had three seasons in the red jersey under his belt. In this season that sees Munster nominated the number 1 club in Europe, both hang up their boots, 13 and 10 seasons respectively after they started, leaving the squad ever the stronger for their presence. Mark Woods remembers two of the legends of Munster rugby.

When John Kelly made his debut for Munster in September 1997, Anthony Foley already had three seasons in the red jersey under his belt. In this season that sees Munster nominated the number 1 club in Europe, both hang up their boots, 13 and 10 seasons respectively after they started, leaving the squad ever the stronger for their presence. Mark Woods remembers two of the legends of Munster rugby.

Musgrave Park is gearing up to pay another fond farewell to a genuine living legend on Saturday, when Anthony Foley plays his last ""home game for Munster before retiring after the Heineken Cup final.

Back in December John Kelly received a fitting tribute from supporters and players alike after he was according a huge ovation following his last appearance in the Munster red against Connacht at the same venue.

The 34 years old wing scored 14 tries in 67 Heineken Cup appearances, his most memorable being the pair in the ‘miracle match’ against
Gloucester in 2003.

Both players were similar in that what you saw on the pitch is what you got. The pair went about their business in an under-stated way, but were always model professionals, content to stay out of the spotlight and allow their displays speak for themselves.

In particular you’ve only to glimpse at Foley’s record with the province to appreciate his remarkable contribution to the country’s most popular team. Over 200 competitive games, a record 86 Heineken Cup appearances and 23 tries in Europe are just some of the statistics to adorn his career and that’s not factoring in his 62 Ireland caps and five tries.

""A Celtic League winner in 200 the influential number eight captained the Celtic Cup winning team in 2005 before his crowning moment of
leading the Heineken Cup triumph a year later.

Three times Foley’s been Munster’s leading or joint leading try scorer in Europe and with Shannon he was ever-present in their four-in-a-row All-Ireland League triumphs between 1995 and 98.

But facts and figures don’t go even close to measuring Foley’s importance to the side, particularly when you bear in mind that he started out as an amateur when the Heineken Cup was finding its feet.

The 34 years old is blessed with an incomparable rugby brain. Foley has this ability to be in the right place at the right time and always
seeming to do what’s required in almost every situation.

He’s certainly not the chatter-box of the squad. There are plenty others more than capable of fitting that description, but when Foley speaks
everyone listens because what he says invariably strikes a chord. But it’s actions on the field which sum up the player. He epitomises
what Munster represents, honesty, commitment and a limitless spirit, heart and soul.

To this day Foley remains the only Munster player to score a hat-trick of tries in Europe and his finishing ability was never more welcome than on that memorable January afternoon in 2001.""

Biarritz were appearing in their first Heineken Cup when they travelled to Thomond Park for a quarter-final which most people believed would take a predictable course.

Little was known of the Basques at the time. They’d emerged from a group containing Northampton, who had beaten Munster in the previous season’s final, Leinster and Edinburgh.

Their stand-out players were Phillipe Bernat-Salles and Frano Botica in the backs and Olivier Roumat and Serge Betsen in the pack, with the Lievremont brothers, Thomas and Marc, the current French coach, on the bench.

It ended up being a seven-try thriller with the visitors claiming four tries, including a pair from flanker Christoph Milheres, and while it
wasn’t quite squeaky bum time it was still much too close for comfort.

Only two Munster players scored that afternoon, Ronan O’Gara kicking seven penalties and a conversion, but it was Foley’s hat-trick which
helped them survive 38-29.

He was also a creator of tries and one in particular stands out, when a perfectly weighted grubber kick to the corner produced a rare try for
Christian Cullen.

""We can only wonder at the vast amount of rugby knowledge picked up by both Foley and Kelly during their distinguished playing careers. It’s incumbent on everyone involved in Munster rugby that this is passed on to the next generation, irrespective of the level.

Foley is already involved in coaching with his beloved Shannon and Kelly helped UCC backs during the season. Their experiences are invaluable and it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if they were to return to Munster in some capacity in the future.

And just for the record a big thank-you to the lads for giving us so many lifelong memories during two fabulous careers.

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